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It is land and not just history that binds us

Few Iraqis recognize the organic connection between the mountains of Kurdistan and southern Iraq.  Many say that Iraq is an artificial state created by the british.  I submit to you that geology supersedes humanity.  Before the last Ice Age ended some 11 to 13 thousand years ago, the sea water level was some 450 feet (150 meters) lower than it is today and southern Iraq was a valley carved out the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates.  With the end of the Ice Age water levels rose and there are theories that postulate that a large land slide occurred from the Zagros Mountains due to increase rains in that time blocking the path of the Tigris and Euphrates and creating an inner delta which caused the deposition of the soils that come with the waters of Tigris and Euphrates from the mountains of Kurdistan creating the plain of southern mesopotamia.  Another theory says that there were alluvial fans from Kargh and Karoon rivers as well ask another fan from the Najad highlands that actually blocked the path of the Tgris and Euphrates.  Regardless of which theory is right, there is no disputing the fact that the soils of southern Iraq are actually soils from the mountains of Kurdistan!!!  So beware, disputed territories can go all the way to the tip of the Fao 😉

This is food for thought for those who are concerned with nature of Iraq as a country and the connection between the Kurds and Arabs of Iraq.  We Arabs need to recognize the contribution of Kurdistan (be it people or nature) to the civilization of the south and the fact that if we are what we eat, we are all connected to Kurdistan by virtue of our need for the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates.  The Kurds also need to understand that the easiest way to export their oil is through southern Iraq.  Yet I meet many Arabs from southern iraq who resent the Kurdish dominance in the politics of todays’ Iraq and of course the reverse is true.  I meet many Kurds who are resentful of the way the Arabs have treated Kurdistan in modern Iraq.

Until we all recognize that we are partners in this land called Iraq and that the south of Iraq needs Kurdistan’s contribution as much ad the Kurdish people need the south of Iraq, we are not going to have stability in this country.  Moreover, in an increasingly globalized world, I am one of those who have bought into the vision that Barham Salih, current Prime Minister of KRG, has expressed about the future of the region.  He is quoted as saying in 50 years, there will not be boundaries in this region but rather we will create a region based on economic well being and trade.  There will not be an Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, jordan, Israel, etc.  Rather there will be regions that are trading together and forming a common market, ala the European Common Maket that developed into the European Union.  We should make sure that those of us who live in Mesopotamia (and that has the Arabs of Iraq, and the Kurds of Iraq, Syria, Iran and Turkey) have the economic strength of Germany in todays’ European Union.

I know, I know… You are all shaking your heads and saying this is an impossible dream, but I am one who does not believe anything is impossible if there is will…  You all have to choose if you want to live in the past or work for a better future for yourselves and your children and grandchildren.


Dr. Azzam Alwash is the Director of the Eden Again Project. Born in Kut, Iraq in 1958, he spent much of his younger years in Nasseriya on the fringes of the marshlands.  He left Iraq in 1978 as a result of the Baathist regime and completed his Bachelor of Science (Civil Engineering) and his PhD in Geotechnical Engineering in California. Where he subsequently he worked as a soils engineering consultant for 20 years. He is on the Board of Directors of the Iraq Foundation and the Iraqi Forum for Democracy. In August 2003, Azzam took a leave of absence from his consultancy practice to direct the Eden Again operations in Iraq. His inspirational work in reviving the marshes has been the subject of international praise and documentaries. He now divides his time between Baghdad, the marshlands, and international speaking engagements. 


5 Comments on “It is land and not just history that binds us”

  1. Muhammad Ayad February 23, 2012 at 12:38 pm #

    I was suspecting that it is you Dr. Azzam. I was even about to past your TEDxBaghdad video here in order to introduce you and say that this man talks about the same things. I hadn’t reached the end of the article yet. Now I know that it is you. You are so right.This is really food for thought.

  2. Ali Aboud February 24, 2012 at 2:56 am #

    Dr. Azzam,

    Based on your connection through geology, should the South of Iraq not equally be connected to Turkey? Would Iraq claim a connection to to any part of the world it has received soil from? Do the sandstorms we get from Saudi Arabia count towards establishing a connection with them?

    Since Kurdistan did not exist as a region in terms of statehood or population at the time of the landslide, what significance does that have on our modern day interactions? Is it not just an emotional attachment?

    I believe in the strong connections between Arabs and Kurds in Iraq and elsewhere and deeply regret that they have been soured recently, but aren’t there other substantively more compelling reasons we we should achieve that dream of unity?

    PS: I loved your presentation in TEDxBaghdad

  3. Observer February 28, 2012 at 10:25 am #

    Dear Ali and all,
    Thanks for your note. The sand storms deposits hardly compare with the alluvial depositions but you are missing the point. The Kurdish people are distinct and have their legitimate rights for self determination whether you choose to admit it or not is entirely depends on your own moral standards. But if you support the Palestinians right for self governance and their country, then you have, by extension, support the Kurdish rights for the same. The Kurds and the Palestinians were mentioned as peoples deserving of their own homeland by President WIlson after WWI, and not surprisingly, both did not get their rights.

    Your mention of Turkey clearly demonstrates that you do not recognize that there is a sizable population of Kurds in Turkey (larger by far than the rest of the Kurds, in Iraq, Iran and Syria). I specifically stated in my note Kurdistan and not KRG because I believe in the Kurdish people, as a whole, right in having a homeland called Kurdistan that would be a part of Iraq, Turkey, iran and Syria, but I do understand that the geopolitical situation does not allow it currently, and further I mentioned that we may even bypass the era of “homelands” into the era of regions.

    Please do understand that I am not calling for the “destruction of Iraq”. Quite the contrary, I think there is a lot that unites us than divides us. If we, the Arabs of Iraq, stop viewing the Kurdish demands as attempts to separate and instead view their demands as legitimate demands of a partner in a country (after all the royal Iraqi flag had a star for arabs and another for the kurds), then the Kurds will have their rights as individuals protected, and as a minority recognized and that will yield a stable Iraq and not an Iraq where enemies have meddled into the relationship between Kurds and Arabs to weaken it.

    I loved Barham Salih interview on French TV where he stated that it is time that the region views the Kurds as a uniting factor than the problem factor. Think in a future where there are no borders, but trading regions that gain strength from stability and abundant natural resources. Visit Kurdistan-Iraq and then fly to Basra and aks yourself why is it the KRG has moved forward so much and Basrah seems to be going backwards and not forward.
    I hope this makes sense.

    • Lion of Babylone February 28, 2012 at 11:48 am #

      Dr. Azzam, I like the line about the disputed territories :). But here are things that bothers the Arabs about Kurdistan:

      In general Arabs are free to come here but not that free to stay in Kurdistan. Lots of restrictions like getting permission to live, work, or buy a house there.

      Now asking for that is against the constitution, because the constitution says that every Iraqi is free to live, travel, and work in any part of Iraq (without restrictions of course). They claim it is for security reasons, but in reality it is not only for security reasons. They know that Arabs love to live and work here because it is full of opportunities. And it seems that they don’t want us to be here.

      Now it is their right to have their own ambitions and wish to be an independent country in the future. But while they have chosen to stay attached to Iraq and signed the constitution they should adhere to it. Their land shouldn’t be a refugee for wanted people, even if we might disagree about whether it was right to issue a arrest warrant.

      And there is land in the south of Kurdistan that is mixed. Disputed territories today might become subject of violence tomorrow! Having a wish doesn’t mean taking it by force and by blood shed! You might say there haven’t been any incidences but you know from the talking that they are ready to start one if it takes that. Recall Kak Masoo’ds talk.

      I am Arab, and I live here. I’ve trouble with residency. Nevertheless I love them. And I believe that they should get their country if it is their wish. However I feel discriminated at work. And I feel that there is always mistrust towards me although I do my best to adapt and reject the discriminating talk of my fellow Arabs (especially the mean jokes against the Kurds). I feel that they keep making us responsible for Saddam’s crimes although we were both victimes. Being Arab doesn’t mean being Saddami. And the Arabs from the south have seen as much as the Kurds in the North.

      You are close to Barham. What I like about Barham is that he is visionary. But sometimes I see him talking in a very convulsive way about Baghdad and the “Government’s foolish policies”. Arabs respect him. He can be a leader for both Arabs and Kurds if he wants to. However he chooses to act as a Kurdish ultra-nationalist, a role that doesn’t fit him and that other Kurdish leaders have been better at.

      When the Kurds have their own country we will be their closest neighbor. So it is in their interest to have strong relationship with Iraq, as well as it is our closest interest to have a strong relationships with them.

      My talk isn’t new. But sometimes words in the right time and the right way can change things, even if it is a slight change. I would love if somebody like you would pass such talk to him.

    • Ali Aboud April 29, 2012 at 7:22 am #

      Dear Dr. Azzam, I am obviously aware of Turkey’s large Kurdish population but they are currently part of the state of turkey nonetheless. According to your soil-based arguments, you have created connections withe states of Turkey, Syria and Iran. And my point was at the time these deposits began settling in the south of Iraq, the ethnic make-up of the region was quite different.

      Regarding the sandstorms we receive from Saudi, I obviously meant that as tongue in cheek, but I did want to explore where you draw the line on the establishment of a connection from in terms of receipt of soil/sand.

      On a separate issue, you seemed to have misunderstood me again, I do believe that the Kurds, like any distinct group of people, have the right to self determination. And it is their deep misfortune of being landlocked as well as being treated unjustly by the states surrounding them.

      Ultimately, my question was, of what real significance is it that we have received soil in South from Kurdistan in today’s world? If you your aim was to build or strengthen a bond, there are more and other ways to do so.


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